Top 10 Questions to Ask Your Academic Advisor

Student with advisor

Your academic adviser can provide a wealth of support and information throughout your college journey, but it helps to ask the right questions. Not sure where to start? We spoke with Julianne M. Miranda, Associate Dean of Academic Life at DePauw University, for her take on some of the most common questions that your academic adviser could be helping you with.

"Academic advisement is really about creating a relationship with the student that helps them audit their progress throughout the college journey," says Miranda.

Here are the 10 key questions Miranda says you should be asking to begin building that relationship, and to ensure your academic success:

1. How do I know if I chose the right major?

Miranda says: "As an academic adviser, some of the first questions I ask students is what they are really interested in, what do they see themselves doing with that major, and then I see if they've had a strong academic performance to support that major. It's also my role to connect students with faculty members in that discipline to learn not only about the requirements of the major, but to ask faculty why they chose that field."

2. Can I change majors?

Miranda says: "If students come to the realization that they want to change majors, it means their academic career is going to be successful. An academic adviser can work with students to help them develop some self-awareness, and also introduce them to the career advising stage, as well, so they can ask questions about life after the institution."

3. Where can I get a full list of all the courses I need to graduate?

Miranda says: "At the end of the day, academic advising is designed to make the student accountable for going to registrar to confirm their path along the way. The registrar is the voice of truth for what is needed to complete the degree. One of the best things to do is to set out a four-year plan early on, looking at all of the different courses you might want to take, and that are required."

4. What other campus services should I take advantage of?

Miranda says: "Students should be connected to their academic resource center, a writing center to prepare papers, etc. The library is a hugely overlooked resource as well. Also, the career center and any services related to that, and the university wellness services are important -- support doesn't always have to be academically related. Lastly, there are resources dedicated to support online students, such as retention specialists who reach out to make sure they are getting the support they need."

5. What can I do if I'm struggling academically?

Miranda says: "Go to your adviser and get recommendations for how to communicate with faculty members when you're not doing well in a course. The office of academic life also provides academic coaching, and your school may offer success workshops like learning study skills, time management, etc., so take advantage of those."

6. What are recent graduates in my major doing now?

Miranda says: "Social media and alumni networks are so powerful for students, especially for nontraditional students who might not have the built-in community other students might have in a residential experience. Another idea is looking at research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to learn where they can find which jobs are connecting to their major."

7. Should I take online courses?

Miranda says: "Before students enroll in an online course, they need to be asking if they are good candidates for online learning. There are a lot of assessments to help them understand if they will be successful in this very different learning experience. Often, online classes take more time than students anticipate, and the rigor is the same if not stronger, than a campus-based course." (Search here for fully online colleges and programs).

8. What are the benefits of pursuing a higher degree given my major?

Miranda says: "This is a very individualized question, which is why it's important to have that relationship. Taking a bit of time to get professional experience between a Bachelor's and Master's degree could be the best option, but sometimes going straight into the Master's is better. The nature of work is changing, so it depends on the student, the vocation, and what they personally wish to accomplish."

9. Looking ahead to grad school, what should I do to prepare in terms of course selection and test prep?

Miranda says: "At the undergrad level, we do pre-professional advising. That shouldn't wait if you plan to head to medical school, for example. You'll need to be looking at potential schools' admissions requirements, and looking at test prep. This is where connecting with alumni can be helpful, so students can hear about the experiences of professionals once they're out in the real world."

10. Can I transfer in credits from other institutions or online courses I've taken?

Miranda says: More and more we're going to be seeing that. With the growth of online learning, it's viable for students to take a combination of online and campus-based classes. But, students need to confirm that their institution will accept that credit, just like any other course they would try to transfer in. It's always advisable to confirm that they will get credit for the courses completed as there may be limitations.


Julianne M. Miranda, Associate Dean of Academic Life at DePauw University, interviewed by the author on 9/10/2014.

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